In Countries With Mandatory Military Service, What Happens If You're Too Fat, Too Sick, Too Dumb...

If you live in, say, South Korea, and you are required to do x years of military service, what do they do for you if you are just not cut out for the military? Like if you have a developmental disability, or have some chronic disease, or are just too porky and out-of-shape for military service? Do they send you into some civilian form of service? Do you get some kind of excuse from the Head of State or something?

“Supplemental Service”

They do other things.

Non-active duty personnel, or “supplemental service” personnel serve for various lengths: 24 months for social work personnel or international cooperation service personnel; 34 months for arts and sports personnel or industrial technical personnel; and 36 months for public health doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, or expert researchers.

There is a category for “Not Fit For Military Service,” which covers the mentally, physically and morally deficient.

In Finland they either give you a lower service class and tell you not to bother or in some cases tell you to try again later. If you get B service class you still need to go but you’ll end up doing something boring that doesn’t require much of you. We had a bunch of B-class guys in the same room when I was in the army, one (who had broken half the bones in his body one at a time doing stupid stunts) spent his time at the transport company’s gas/oil depot and almost went insane from boredom.

We also had a 137 kg heavy guy who also was B-class, can’t remember what he ended up doing though. Might have been an ambulance driver. On the other hand one of the guys that started at the same time as me ended up getting kicked out because of his bad asthma. Quite a few of the people who were told to come back later were young men who couldn’t handle being away from home and the army hoped that at least some of them could do better after maturing a bit.

The same thing they do in countries that institute a draft, and by “the same thing” I mean it depends on the country and the time.

Norway has cut down the number who serve so drastically only the most motivated and fit serve. You indicate your motivation in a mandatory registration, and those who don’t seem to be too dumb or nuts are called in for evaluation.

I was told at 18, roughly two decades ago, that my physical fitness was marginal and asked if I was motivated. I said yes at the time, but they didn’t call me in immediately and having started university I was less interested in taking a year off. I ended up serving my year after getting my MSc. No take backsies.

The drill instructors in Basic Training have ways of dealing with excess weight! (And pretty simple: limited intake, increased output (exercise)). The majority of new recruits are NOT in the proper physical shape; fixing that is one of the points of Basic Training.

At least, this is how my brother reported it during Vietnam-era. I understand the US military is a lot more selective about who they will take now.

They go into politics.


What constitutes “unfit” varies according to time and place. Even in the US, when it had a draft, during times of intense manpower needs, they took pretty much anyone in who had a pulse and could count past five. I think one of our poster, Chefguy maybe, recalled that at the physical he took, you would have to be on life support not to be taken.

On the other hand, before National Service ended in several European countries recently, in the last few years people were being turned away for minor things.

When the Netherlands had mandatory service, there would be an intake examination. Those too heavy, too stupid, too tall* were rejected and that was the end of their obligation.

*Many of those just shy of the height limit would spend a week or so in bed, and be transported to the examination staying as flat as possible, in the hopes of gaining that extra cm.

As others have said it depends on supply and demand. When supply is high and demand is low they turn you down. If demand is high and supply is low they take you and either force you to change to fit their metrics (forcing fat people to lose weight for example) or they find a job you can do with your condition.

One anecdotal data point: in 1980, at the height of the Cold War manpower demand of the German military, I underwent the medical exam for the military (like any male German youth) and I was immediately classified as unfit solely as a result of 9 dioptries myopia (100% acuity with glasses but cannot see much beyond the tip of my nose without). The myopia has not been a serious problem for all of my life since.

The German military has able to tighten fitness criteria still more since (due to much lower post-Cold War manpower demand) but had to loosen them again when mandatory military service was suspended in 2011.

My Daddy was a DI in the corps. He use to say it would amaze you how smart Dummy got after six weeks. Or how fit Fatty was after a few weeks. They have their ‘ways’.

With the Israeli army, it’s a bit more complicated.

If you’re *really *too sick, or too fat, or too stupid - or if your problem will cost the army too much to treat - then they’ll give you an exemption, although they ay let you volunteer… But other than that, they IDF has honed placement down to a science, and they’ll do their best to put you in a position where your strong points will shine and your weak points won’t get in the way. Obese? You can still work with computers. Asthmatic? You can be an excellent intelligence analyst. Not very smart? The army will always need cooks, drivers, quartermasters, and guys to sweep the walkways and paint the trees. I knew a guy, blind from birth, who served as an archivist for the Army Radio. Did a good job, too.

It’s not a matter of “PC” or “affirmative action” or any of that bullshit. The IDF just believes that you don’t throw away a useful tool, even if its uses are very specific. Besides, putting people with lesser physical and mental abilities in support positions, means that that all the smart, fit ones are available to serve in combat.

There is quite a bit of stupid they can’t fix, even for Marines. The real fatties don’t get to boot camp. Marine fatty is usually pudgy and they get told to join the other services. (I was Navy for the record). The dumbest get rejected by Navy, Air Force and Marines. But at times the Army has let in the truly stupid. Not all the time, but at times.

No disrespect to your Dad but he never had to deal with the idiots that Army Drill Instructors get or the out of shape recruits that Navy CCs get. (CC=Company Commanders)

He did have to deal with get these more fit recruits through the toughest of the boot camps for enlisted personnel.

In Taiwan, AIUI, you can get an exemption if you are too physically unfit to serve or have some mental illness that wouldn’t make you good for the army, but it will go onto your “record” and you may have would-be employers who would look at it and decide that they don’t want you as an employee. So there are consequences for escaping conscription this way.

Project 100,000 may be of historical interest:

Not doubting you – but, “too tall for the armed forces” is a new one on me ! The opposite – being deemed too short – is a lot more familiar.

In the only – brief – period when peacetime conscription was in force in the UK (1945 – 1960; I was, thank heaven, born several years too late to be affected): I gather from what I’ve heard and read, that the military were often surprisingly “choosy” – a good many guys were rejected for seemingly fairly trivial medical issues; and as with the Netherlands above, that was it – no further obligation.

The actor Terence Stamp tells in his autobiography, of being upon intake medical examination, rejected for conscription: I read the book long ago – forget the details – Wiki says vaguely, that it was “for having had treatment on his feet”. Stamp writes of his surprise and delight at being turned down: he’d had no wish to have to waste a couple of years in what he saw as senseless bullshit, obliging him to put on hold his planned acting career.


Let’s keep the political potshots out of GQ, please, even if they aren’t specific to either party.

There’s plenty of things you can’t do in the army if you are too tall. Most army vehicles have really limited room, fighter jet seats have been designed to a limited height range and so on and on. I personally got to try a Russian 23mm AA gun and there was no way I could fit my 198 cm body into the shooter’s seat. To me it looked like it was designed for roughly 170 cm tall soldiers. The AA unit I started my service in solved this by sending the tall guys to learn shoulder-launched missiles and short guys to learn those short-range 23mm AA guns.

The Spanish noun quintos (“fifths”), referring to people born in the same year, comes from the original definition of the national draft as 1/5 of the men born in that given year. The quotas changed, but we never had a universal draft: people who didn’t pass the medical exam got exempt. The draft lasted almost 200 years, including several wars; people drafted at gunpoint during one of these (the '36 Civil War was particularly nasty in this respect) generally weren’t given a medical, but also didn’t have options such as requesting a deferment for college or joining “summer OCS” (milicias universitarias, also college students).
Re. too tall: my great-grandfather was sent to the Royal Guard because he was one of the 12 tallest guys in his incoming group (incoming was and still is every 3 months). After his service he became a cop, and a mounted one for most of his service. His son, also very tall, was able to use the combo of “very tall” and “grew up around horses” to be sent to the cavalry, which was considered a plum job (at least for those who already knew each of a horse’s ends from the other).
But alas, when the '36 Civil War started, the son was still classified as cavalry and the horses had become metal boxes where a guy close to 6’4" was completely scrunched.

I had a one-eyed uncle who got drafted in WW II. He was an auto mechanic (and a good one) and they stationed him in Florida where he repaired tank transmissions.

On the other hand I knew two different people who, during the late 50s (that is post-Korea and pre-Vietnam) got exempted from the draft after showing up for the physical not wearing underpants.

Apparently, the military does take their needs into account when deciding whom to draft.